Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 12th, 2016

What Steven Soderbergh tries to do in his movies

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2016 at 4:16 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Important question: Is Donald Trump sentient?

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Here’s why I ask.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2016 at 4:01 pm

Things get increasingly creepy (future shock): Uber said it protects you from spying. Security sources say otherwise.

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How quaint 1984 now seems. And access to detailed information about you is now so decentralized—tons of brokers. In 1984 the information was available only to “authorities.”

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2016 at 3:37 pm

Reason magazine has some very interesting articles

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Check out the list.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2016 at 3:06 pm

The Power of Memes: Graffiti Kids Sparked the Syrian War.

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A graffito is almost the ideal of a meme: an image (style, words, letters) that specifically is intended to be imitated: to propagate, in other words. And that meme was quite successful as a meme, and also showed that what is good for a meme can be bad for the host, just as what is good for the virus may be (and generally is) bad for the cell (and host).

Read the article, watching for memes and their evolution. The blurb:

It started as simple teenage rebellion but ended up tearing Syria apart, setting in motion events that continue to rock the Middle East — and the world. The boys behind the graffiti would become unlikely revolutionaries and reluctant refugees. Not all of them would survive the upheaval they helped unleash. This is their story

Briefly, a meme is anything you learn—i.e., is not nature but nurture. Ability to learn a language is nature: you’re born with it. The particular language(s) you learn, that’s culture-dependent as are all expressions of culture: images, music, values, ideals, and so on. All are memes (units of cultural inheritance, proposed in The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins (chapter 11)) or combinations of memes: memeplexes. (Some memes seem to cluster (two examples of meme clusters: pick-up truck, rifle rack, Confederate flag; and, having an expensive car, often wearing a tuxedo, and season tickets at the Met. Obviously, life is complex and memes cluster in different ways for different people.

Since memes are subject to Darwinian rules—competition for resources (mindshare) and minor variations in offspring (as when a song varies slightly from singer to singer), then evolution is inevitable. Memes, unlike lifeforms, evolve at a tremendous rate, getting ever-better at survival (as a meme, regardless of what it does to the persons hosting the meme).

In a way, it’s very like the Synchronicity—cf. some of Charles Stross’s science fiction, such as Accelerando—when AI finally gets enough liftoff that it can control and direct its own evolution/learning/improvements. And in sf novels that usually means its own goals, which may or may not coincide with our goals as humans, an animal species particularly adapted for hosting memes, whose evolution in that direction was pretty much caused by memes, and for the benefit of memes.

And to some extent it benefits ourselves, of course, or at least some of us: enough food, great art, freedom, born into privilege (memes again), and so on. That gets back to this earlier post on The Cost of Consciousness, since consciousness is itself meme-based. The animals who lack memes lack also consciousness, and we define ourselves—our “who we are”—totally by memes: the who identity thing consists of memes. Who you are, how you fit into society, and the cultural knowledge (stories, songs, cookery, rituals, knowledge) that defines “you”—that totally consists of memes.

When I mentioned the cost of consciousness, I was initially thinking of the physical costs—the energy demands of a brain. But, in an interesting example of positive feedback and starts the acceleration to the Synchronicity, the brain helps us make things better on the food front (using fire to cook food to better extract nutrients, domesticating herds of animals and then plants, gathering into cities so specialized knowledge—wheelwright, for example—can be supported. Read The Horse, the Wheel and Language, by David Anthony, for a wonderful history of the evolution of these memes if you read it with memes in mind.

So the brain helped support us and memes more or less took over: all our work lives are spent, in effect, in service to memes. That’s the cost of consciousness. And memes evolve quickly and (necessarily) for their own benefit. That’s what evolution does and how it works. The book in which memes were first described is The Selfish Gene (worth reading), and the analogy holds: the meme also is selfish and in the same way.

So at the rate memes now evolve, can the Synchronicity be far away?

Note how our meme capabilities—our ability to create, copy, and communicate memes—has improved almost as though that were the goal of our species. The first big step was, I think, the invention of language. It’s definitely something one learns, it has definite survival value, and it provides a rich environment in which memes can flourish: ideas defined and taught, values instilled, and all the things we learn through language. But we kept working to provide richer and better environments for memes, developing written language, printed language, books, newspapers, radio, movies, television, and now the internet. Things just get better and better for memes.

UPDATE: From the article:

But he still wonders out loud whether a teenager from a devoutly Muslim and conservative province of Syria can ever fit into the sexually liberal, pork- and alcohol-consuming society around him.

Memes really have a hold on a person—it’s hard to just switch to a new set of memes that are quite normal to another memeplex/culture—and that’s in part because the person’s identity—who s/she is—consists of memes.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2016 at 2:41 pm

“Nice people make the best NAZIs”

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Naomi Shulman, a Northampton writer whose mother Elizabeth was born in Munich in 1934 and grew up in Nazi Germany:

Nice people made the best Nazis. My mom grew up next to them. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly and focused on happier things than ‘politics. They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resisters.

Now reread the previous post of Jennifer Rubin’s comments on the behavior of the Republicans in Congress in response to Trump’s myriad provocations and problems. He is openly and directly saying that he will not read or be briefed only once a week (at most, I imagine) because he’s “smart” (a self-refuting statement if there ever was one), that he will use the office of President to fire up some good deals for him in various nations. What on earth more do they need to know? What if it had been true of Hillary Clinton? God, look at how they reacted to her offenses, such as they were. And now? Crickets. Cowardice. Collaboration.

UPDATE: Just published in Salon: “Allen West recently praised a plan to “exterminate” Muslims, and now he’s meeting with Donald Trump.” That is out-and-out Final Solution. Do these men know any history?

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2016 at 1:47 pm

Republican cowardice

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Jennifer Rubin, a staunch Republican blogger for the Washington Post, has in recent weeks been well worth reading. Her posts appear under the heading “Right Turn” and you can find links to individual posts there. From one of today’s posts:

You would think the stunning news that the CIA had concluded Russia hacked the Democrats to help President-elect Donald Trump win the election, followed by Trump’s insulting dismissal of 17 intelligence agencies finding that Russia was responsible — which in turn was followed by news he intended to nominate as secretary of state an unqualified chief executive with exceptionally close ties to Vladimir Putin (and who opposed sanctions) — would have stirred outrage and deep concern among Republicans, who used to pride themselves on their national security chops. You would be wrong.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) were the most outspoken. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) expressed her concern as well. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) put out one sarcastic tweet. Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) also publicly backed a probe. But these were the exceptions.

House Speaker Paul Ryan could not even manage to call explicitly for a probe of Russian hacking. A slew of Republican Senate offices, including those of Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), would not comment or simply refused to respond to inquiries. . .

Granted, the news broke over a weekend, so perhaps the senators will have more to say today or during the workweek, although you’d think they would be able to focus on issues of national security any day of the week. Nevertheless, why are these Republicans so silent? I mean, this is a really big deal. If and when Republicans come out from hiding, enterprising journalists should ask them a series of questions:

If Trump continues to receive foreign monies in violation of the Constitution what will you do?

Republicans lambasted Hillary Clinton for coming to the State Department while her husband was getting paid for speeches and their foundation was accepting foreign money. Why are you not insisting on a similar standard for Trump?

Does it bother you that his children will be running businesses and he will be reaping the profits from all sorts of businesses that have matters before the federal government or are affected by laws and regulations? If Clinton attempted this wouldn’t you be calling for impeachment?

Do you favor hearings and/or legislation to address Trump’s conflicts?

Do you agree with the unanimous assessment of our intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the hacking? If so, are you concerned Trump and his aides are calling this “ridiculous”?

If the president does not act on intelligence that is factually beyond dispute in defense of U.S. interests is he fulfilling his constitutional obligations?

Donald Trump still has not released his tax returns so we do not know the extent of his financial ties, if any, to Russia. Does that concern you?

Trump’s pick for national security adviser traveled to Russia, gave a speech for which he was paid (how much we do not know), says Russia’s propaganda outlet RT is just like CNN and retweets attacks on all Muslims and “fake news” accounts. Should he be in the NSA position? Will you subpoena his financial records to determine his connections to Russia and whether those pose a national security concern?

Most elected Republicans shed their principles and their judgment in backing Trump for president. They justified or ignored a string of outrageous, bigoted or ignorant comments. They never demanded he produce his tax returns. They tolerated his lies about what he had previously said. They shrugged their shoulders when he incited violence. They were unmoved by his shady charity, his history of avoiding taxes, his pattern of stiffing small business people and by his operation of Trump University. In a myriad of ways they defended the indefensible. They were, in other words, intellectually and morally corrupted.

Now that Trump has been elected they seem even less inclined to oppose him, just as we long predicted. Whether it is fidelity to the Constitution or an acute national security threat, their overriding concern remains the same. Their default setting, if you will, is always partisan loyalty. . .

In an update to the post, Rubin notes:

To his credit McConnell stepped up to the plate. “Obviously any foreign breach of our cybersecurity measures is disturbing, and I strongly condemn any such efforts,” he said at his news conference. “It’s an important subject and we intend to review it on a bipartisan basis. The Russians are not our friends.” The last sentence may be the most important.

And another post today concludes:

. . . The interview was horrifying, to be blunt. Here’s a man who thinks he is above the law, above reproach and without need of first-rate intelligence. The risks to the country are grave. But he is also setting himself and the GOP up for disaster. If a terror attack happens how will he explain his refusal to take regular briefings? When Trump and other administration officials take meetings or extend favors to countries involved in business dealings with his children the stench of corruption will hover over his presidency. The level of contempt for facts and for the rule of law does not shock those who opposed Trump throughout the campaign. It nevertheless should panic Republicans who lacked the nerve to oppose him.

We still do not have anything as basic as a listing of all his foreign businesses and debt held by foreign banks. “We have no idea about his potential conflicts, and will not, until he decides that the American people have a right to know who he’s doing business with,” Libowitz said. “Of course, none of these potential issues would exist if he followed the example of previous presidents and sold his assets outside the family and placed the profits in a blind trust.”

Unfortunately, an abysmal lack of leadership from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (whose office would not comment on Trump’s remarks concerning conflicts) has given him the green light to do whatever he likes, conflicts of interest and the Constitution be damned. The electors should take all of this into consideration as they cast their votes on December 19. Voting for someone who announces his indifference to evidence of a foreign cyberattack and to compliance with the Constitution — who effectively disqualifies himself from upholding the oath of office — would be irresponsible.

Democrats are being handed a lifeline to recover from the 2016 defeat: Run in 2018 on draining the swamp and defending America’s interests from Russian (and other) foes whom Trump is unwilling to confront. That sounds like a national theme that could catch fire — especially if the Republicans also decide to take away Obamacare without a ready replacement. Nah, they couldn’t be that politically stupid, could they?

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2016 at 10:42 am

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